Does ICC action already make a difference in Burundi?

07 June 2016 by Benjamin Duerr, The Hague (The Netherlands)

At the end of April, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination in Burundi. As the situation has been deteriorating for the past year with experts fearing the outbreak of a full-fledged civil war, Burundi could become a real-life test for the ICC's ability to deter atrocities. Some argue there is evidence the move of the prosecutor has already had an impact on the conflict.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza talks to the press following a meeting with a UN Security Council delegation that came to reiterate the need for an inclusive dialogue to end months of political turmoil. (Photo: Flickr/ MONUSCO)
Image caption: 
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza talks to the press following a meeting with a UN Security Council delegation that came to reiterate the need for an inclusive dialogue to end months of political turmoil. (Photo: Flickr/ MONUSCO)

When Burundi's ruling party announced president Pierre Nkurunziza as a candidate for a controversial third term in April 2015, Burundians were already stockpiling supplies in case unrest broke out. The small Eastern African nation has experienced decades of violence and civil war and could slide into a new conflict, fear Burundians and foreign observers alike [IJT-183] .

A year after Nkurunziza's announcement that caused waves of violence, Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the ICC, announced she has opened a preliminary examination to establish whether there is a basis to investigate the persons behind the violence. Since the country still stands on the brink of civil war Burundi could become a test for the court's deterrent effect.

“The ICC's watchful eye might make leaders exercise greater caution,” says Geoffrey Dancy, a political scientist at Tulane University in the United States who studied the ICC's deterrent effect in other countries such as the DR Congo, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Kenya and the Central African Republic.

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